LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (PNS) Since 1998, after a mass shooting occurred in their community at Westside Middle School, Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center has hosted numerous healing camps for children and youth affected by school gun violence.
““People stopped saying, ‘I know how you feel,’ and ‘It’ll be okay,” remembers Jessica Odom. She was 13 when the Westside shooting occurred. “People started saying, ‘You are in pain,’ and ‘I am here for you.’
“The experience at Ferncliff made me a different person not only at the end of that week, but for the rest of my life.”
Now, thanks to a partnership with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance(PDA), other camp and conference centers will soon be able to host their healing camps for survivors like Jessica in their own areas.
“Ferncliff has helped so many youth address their trauma,” says PDA coordinator Laurie Krauss. “Their service to the church in helping youth build community and resiliency is invaluable. We’re excited they are expanding their ministry in this way.”
Ferncliff will host its first Responding to School Violence conference April 7-9 in Little Rock, Arkansas, for camp and conference leaders from all around the country.
Hearing from survivors of mass school shootings will help them better understand how to become a place of healing for their students, schools, and communities should a horrific act of violence happen in schools in their part of the country.
As part of the partnership, camps that send representatives to the conference will become part of a network that PDA will turn to when school violence occurs.
“It will also help them understand the trauma kids are experiencing—and the deep impact our ministries can have on them.”
Like Sara, who was 11 when the Westside shooting occurred.
“When you witness such cruelty at such a young age, it is easy to believe pain and violence are the only things that exist,” she writes. “I thank you [Presbyterians] from the bottom of my heart for showing our community that love truly is stronger than hate.”
After that first healing camp, Westside Middle School students encouraged Ferncliff to invite other survivors of mass shootings to ‘their camp’ after the violence occurred.
So began a series of camps at Ferncliff that grew to include students from Columbine, Paducah, Los Angeles, and New York City after 9/11—other places traumatized by violence.
“It’s exciting to use these experiences of Ferncliff with the resources of our camp and conference centers in this way,” says Frick. “It’s truly a God thing.”
by Paul Seebeck